Travesty or Justice?
Billionaire polo tycoon John Goodman, who is currently serving a 16-year sentence on house arrest for a 2010 drunk-driving accident that led to the death of a 23-year-old engineering student, will get a new trial.
A Florida judge made the surprise ruling late Friday, saying that one juror's behavior had compromised the fairness of the verdict.
In a self-published book titled Will She Kiss Me or Kill Me?, juror Dennis DeMartin wrote that his ex-wife has been arrested for DUI. When the information was revealed, Goodman's legal team protested that, in spite of being asked directly, the juror did not reveal his ex-wife's DUI charge. Had they known, they say they wouldn't have selected him.
Goodman, the heir to a Houston air conditioning empire estimated at $300 million and founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, was driving a Bentley at a high speed when he ran a stop sign and slammed into Scott Wilson's Hyundai and sent it into a nearby canal in Wellington, Fla., in February 2010.
“A juror who deceives to get on a jury in a high profile case for his own profit is a trial lawyer’s worst nightmare," said defense attorney Roy Black.
Goodman fled the scene of the accident, according to authorities. Wilson, an engineering graduate, drowned while strapped in his seatbelt.
Goodman testified that his $200,000 car malfunctioned and lurched forward, slamming into Wilson's vehicle. Goodman denied being drunk at the time of the crash, although his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit three hours after the crash.
It took the jury only six hours to find Goodman guilty of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He remained under house arrest pending his appeal.
DeMartin claimed he did not lie before he was seated on the jury, but instead blamed memory loss based on a stroke he had in 1988.
Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Colbath disagreed. "A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect one," Colbath wrote in his ruling. "The cumulative effects of DeMartin's antics, however, have transformed an imperfect but fair trial into a constitutionally impermissible proceeding."
Goodman, 49, also made headlines when he adopted his girlfriend, Heather Hutchins, 42, in an attempt to preserve part of his fortune for her while negotiating a civil suit settlement. In March, a Miami appeals court reversed the ruling that allowed the adoption.
Goodman's defense attorney Roy Black was jubilant. “A juror who deceives to get on a jury in a high profile case for his own profit is a trial lawyer’s worst nightmare," Black said in a statement. "Fortunately, this time the deception was exposed and a courageous judge set aside the verdict. But in this new world of social media and self‐publishing, expect this to occur more frequently. John Goodman's trial should stand as a warning to all of us.”